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Blues in the race

Friday, May 02, 2014

WELLINGTON - The weakened Blues are last in a jam-packed race for New Zealand Conference honours and in danger of missing the Super Rugby play-offs for a third straight season.

But coach Sir John Kirwan reckons it's the Queensland Reds who are under pressure.

Two former title-winning teams struggling to find their best form meet at Eden Park tonight, with Kirwan anxious that his men repeat the aggressive approach that felled Australian opposition at the same venue last week.

The 21-13 defeat of the Waratahs wasn't a vintage performance but was enough to suggest the Blues can lift further from the ninth placing and push for their first play-off appearance under Kirwan.

"Last week was what we needed to do from an intensity and effort point of view and that now needs to be our minimum, we need to at least match that," he said.

"All our games have been going right down to the wire but I'm confident if we can bring that attitude then we'll be in the hunt."

The Blues' cause isn't helped by losing centre Francis Saili to an ankle injury suffered at training on Wednesday. He is replaced by Jackson Willison.

Also missing is captain Luke Braid to a shoulder injury, leaving the second-choice Brendon O'Connor to combat Liam Gill, the classy Reds openside flanker who returns after five weeks battling a hamstring niggle.

While the Blues are still in the hunt with a 4-5 win-loss record, the 13th-placed Reds are on the precipice at 3-6, having lost their last three games.

"They'll be desperate so we can't wait, we've just got to really hoe in and replicate the energy and effort that we put in last week," Kirwan said.

"It's a big night for us and we feel like we're the underdogs."

Kirwan believed the play-off make-up would go down to the final round and was enjoying being part of a Kiwi conference in which six points cover the five teams, who are nestled from fourth to ninth place.

"It's great all the sides are so close, but it's pressure games every week. You can't slip up, especially now. The next three to four weeks are going to be very defining."

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